We are a small guest house and are popular and generally well thought of. A guest was asked to dress appropriately while smoking outside our building (she was wearing only a flimsey nightie). She has gone on to say many nasty things, the worst being that she had to leave early as sick due to a dirty hand towel. Can we send here a libel letter, as no proof of this has come to light and no other guest who stayed at the same time has reported being ill? Also in the 9 1/2 years we have been operating we have never had one complaint of sickness.
Hope you can help.
Alasdair Taylor's Answer
Generally speaking, you don’t need to have a valid claim in order to send a letter of claim, although there are exceptions. (I’m not suggesting you don’t have a valid claim, but just want to make distinction between actual and asserted rights.)
Where practicable, a letter of claim should come from a solicitor (or other suitable lawyer). A letter of claim is, in essence, a threat: if you don’t do X, then Y. If a person is not prepared to invest a few hundred pounds in preliminary legal advice, a threat by that person to spend many thousands of pounds pursuing legal action is unlikely to carry much weight. Also, most solicitors – those that I have worked with, at least – won’t send an aggressive letter of claim unless they think the client has an arguable case.
All I can say regarding the substance of any claim you might make is:
- a statement that poor hygiene led to a guest becoming ill would I think carry a defamatory imputation; and
- if the defamatory statements here were spoken, then the slander rather than libel will be the relevant form of the tort.